The commercial harvest of crayfish in Lake Tahoe is still a very real possibility and may kick off within the next couple of months - on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake.
California assemblywoman Beth Gaines, who represents El Dorado County, introduced legislation that would repeal the Department of Fish and Game code that bans commercial crayfish harvest from Lake Tahoe. The bill is currently being reviewed for recommendation by the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and is expected to be acted upon by the legislature before April 27.
Tahoe Lobster Co.'s Fred Jackson has been hard at work through the winter, testing traps and presenting the idea to various groups.
"We've got everything but the permits," Jackson said.
Jackson still needs to apply for a permit with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. And he needs to meet with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to discuss his plan and make sure it will not impact the thresholds the agency holds for lake clarity. That goes for any fishermen looking to harvest crayfish from the lake, said TRPA spokeswoman Kristi Boosman.
"We would want all commercial fishermen to present on what, where and how they intend to harvest," Boosman said.
Commercial harvest of crayfish is currently only allowed on the Nevada side of the lake after regulation prohibiting commercial crayfish harvesting was repealed in December. Fishermen must apply for a $500-per-year permit with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Jackson maintains that his business is centered around improving the clarity of Lake Tahoe, rather than making big bucks or putting food on the table. Sudeep Chandra, a University of Nevada, Reno, scientist, will help Jackson collect and analyze data about the areas he fishes in.
The lobster-like crustaceans have been linked to increased algae blooms, a decrease in native invertebrates and are believed to be detrimental to Lake Tahoe's clarity. Non-native, warm-water fish, such as largemouth bass and bluegill, are nearly the only predators that feed on the crayfish.
Before Lake Tahoe can host its very own crayfish fleet, a market for the product will have to be established. Jackson has already linked up with Sierra Gold Seafood, which will distribute his catch.
There has been some interest from local restaurants, but other are somewhat skeptical of the catch.
"As far as New Orleans crayfish boils and bakes, we don't do a lot of that," said John LaRue, head chef at Montbleu Casino Resort and Spa.
Nonetheless, Jackson has high hopes for the freshwater lobster. At a chef's conference in Reno last week, Jackson presented the idea to dozens of chef's from across the West.
"They thought it was a wonderful deal," he said. "They weren't giving up any recipes. They were more interested in the science side of it."